Original article from Kent Live
A baby from Chatham was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer after her aunt spotted a lesser-known symptom.
Rada Hristova had taken her baby Katherina to the doctor on numerous occasions and had been worried about her child since she was just three months old.
She insisted that her daughter seemed to be in constant pain, and would not stop crying, though GPs reportedly assured her this was likely a common consequence of wind, or that Katharina was simply a "sensitive baby".
The difficulty finding a diagnosis or reason for her baby's discomfort was a point of emotional soreness for Rada.
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She said: “I felt like the worst mum in the world because I couldn’t settle my baby and no one could tell me why.”
The breakthrough came after Rada's sister-in-law noticed something strange about Katherina's left eye.
Rada said: "She rushed into the room and was crying and shaking.
"She said she’d seen a ‘white dot’ in Katherina’s eye and had heard previously that this could be a sign of something serious.
"We both Googled it and the scary diagnosis of eye cancer came up.
“Although neither of us could see the white dot again, I then noticed that Katherina’s eye looked dull in comparison to the other one which was bright and shiny.”
Rada and her partner Lyudmil rushed to A&E, and from there doctors urgently referred her to Maidstone Hospital Eye Clinic.
The white dots turned out to be a large tumour – so large, in fact, that Katherina had already lost sight in that eye.
The tumour was caused by a specific kind of cancer called Retinoblastoma, often seen in children and babies, and forms on the retina of the eye, which is responsible for much of the eye's basic function.
Katherina and her parents were then referred to the Royal London Hospital specialist Retinoblastoma centre.
“Even though it made sense, I still couldn’t believe that my daughter had cancer.
"When you picture a child with cancer, the child looks ill. However, aside from all the crying, Katherina otherwise looked like a healthy child.”
Katherina’s left eye was removed a few days later to stop the cancer from spreading.
Rada said: “The staff at the Royal London Hospital were absolutely amazing and they talked though everything with us, reassuring us that everything was going to be fine.”
“I was scared to see her after the operation – I was still in shock about what she would look like.
But the moment they took off the bandages and revealed the temporary artificial eye they had in place of her eye, my mum reassured me that my little girl was still ‘perfect’."
“I kissed Katherina on the forehead and told her that ‘when she wakes up, she will be more perfect’.”
The surgery was successful, and Katherina's pain ceased immediately after the surgery
“It was like something had changed my little girl. She suddenly stopped crying, started smiling and would sleep like a normal child. You could see that she was finally happy.”
In a cruel turn of events, small tumours began to develop in Katherina's remaining eye.
However, these were at a stage where they were treatable through cryotherapy, using low temperatures to destroy the malignant growths.
The now happy and energetic Katherina has since been fitted with a proper artificial eye, designed to perfectly match her other, and is currently attending regular check-ups at the hospital. The family are also looking forward to celebrating her second birthday in the summer.
It would be almost impossible to tell that she had undergone serious surgery for a life-threatening condition at such a young age.
Rada added: “I’m forever grateful to my sister-in-law for spotting Katherina’s tumour.
"Dessie – thank you for saving my daughter’s life.
"Had the cancer been left any longer, it may have been a different story.”
World Retinoblastoma Awareness Week
The week of May 9-15 marks World Retinoblastoma Awareness week, and the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust is trying to spread awareness of the early symptoms of eye cancer in children.
A white glow in the eye (sometimes only visible in certain lighting) and a squint are the most telling signs – and they encourage parents to seek second opinions if their initial appointments see their concerns not satisfyingly dealt with.
Patrick Tonks, Chief Executive of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust said: “Retinoblastoma is rare, with around one child being diagnosed in the UK each week.
"Symptoms can be quite subtle, and children can often seem physically well which can make it very hard to diagnose.
"However, if you do notice any of the signs in your child’s eyes, they must be examined urgently in person by your GP or another healthcare professional.
“We know GP services have been under huge pressure this year, but we urge parents to trust their intuition and seek additional help from another healthcare professional if they are not satisfied.
“Avoiding delay with a retinoblastoma diagnosis can help save their child’s sight, eyes and even life.”
Around 98% of children survive a Retinoblastoma diagnosis, though only 37% of GPs made an urgent referral when seeing a child who was later diagnosed with Retinoblastoma.
Early treatment is critical to save a child's eyes, sight and life, but in 2020, 24% of children with the illness took over six months to be diagnosed.
For more information on the signs, symptoms and treatment of retinoblastoma, please click here.